Shed Your Shoes

This weekend over a hundred of us from the Boiler Room caravanned out to Prairie Star Ranch for the annual spring retreat, a refreshing blend of vacation, family reunion, and deep times with the Lord. We had sweet moments of worship together, powerful clusters of prayer for one another, large meals together, a bonfire every night, and hours of free time to wander through woods and along lakes. My sunburned neck bears witness to the hours I spent outside, surrounded by beauty. My heart, likewise, was deeply marked by the personal ways that God reaffirmed my identity in Him over the weekend and highlighted several places in my heart He wants to sift.

After lunch on Saturday, I found myself with a large chunk of free time, so I meandered down around the lake. To be honest, I was grumbling to the Lord a bit about how I just wanted to feel loved (more and more lately I have been aware of this desire rising up in my heart – and recognizing the ways I tend to respond to that desire – so the Lord and I have been working through that together).

Eventually, still grumbling a bit, I moved away from the Lake and into the woods. As I wandered down the path, I remembered how, as a child, I had loved exploring the words around my grandpa’s cabin in central Michigan. I spent hours there, wading in the creek, balancing on logs, and collecting colored stones, wildflowers, and tiny frogs, treasures of the woods. As I recalled those memories, I felt God encouraging me to explore like a child again.

So I rambled down towards the stream, where I found a pile of shoes discarded along the banks. I could hear children’s voices and laughter from around the bend. Remembering the Lord’s encouragement to explore like a child, I shed my own sandals and waded into the stream. I followed it until I found the cluster of Boiler Room children, feet submerged in the water as they scooped up tiny frogs. There were hundreds of these frogs along the stream. They hopped into the leaves and jumped into the stream every time we took a step, the patter of dozens of tiny bodies launching and landing sounding like raindrops. I marveled with the children at the frogs’ tiny webbed feet, the mottled brown and green of their backs, and the kicking motion they made as they swam away through the water.

It was while we waded through the stream, collecting frogs, that we saw them: mushrooms. Not just any mushrooms, though. Morel mushrooms. We spotted just a few at first, their spongy tops jutting out from the bank of the stream by an old dead tree.

I pointed them out to the children and one exclaimed, “Those are the ones my dad likes!”

When we went closer, scrambling up the muddy bank to reach them, I saw that there were more than just a few. I could see dozens of them scattered around the tree, peeping out from under leaves and barely hidden behind logs.

We picked a few to bring back with us, carrying them like fragile trophies as we waded back down the stream. As we splashed back through the water, the Lord began to speak to me about how this is the way we treasure hunt with Him, when we become like children. We cast aside our shoes and our grown-up agendas to simply explore, delighting in even the simple things: the slippery brush of moss under our feet, the flutter of frogs’ feet on our hands, a crayfish scuttling through the water. In the midst of this, we find treasure.

Later that afternoon, I returned with a friend to collect more of the mushrooms. We filled a produce box and had still only gathered about half of them. The following day, a group of us returned again and collected the rest, filling more bags and boxes to carry back home. I felt like this treasure, though a personal gift from the Lord, was meant to be shared, so I set aside a few for Derek and I and invited people to come take what they wanted of the rest.

When we came home Sunday afternoon, I cleaned my mushrooms and soaked them in salt water for a few hours, then sautéed them in butter with asparagus and tortellini. They were incredible, so tender and full of flavor. Delicious.

What Does Love Look Like?

“What does love look like?”
is the question I’ve been pondering
“What does love look like?”
“What does love look like?”
is the question I’ve been asking of You

            – Misty Edwards (“Arms Wide Open”)

Over Christmas break my heart has been awakening to the call to love again. It began over my visit home, stirring in the few quiet moments amidst the flurry of activity as we made the rounds of families and friends. On our return to Kansas City, it intensified as I began reading The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence, one of my gifts this Christmas (I’ve wanted to read it for several years now). And as Derek and I joined over twenty thousand people at the Onething conference, I heard that same call to love fully echoed over and over, in the times of worship, in the messages, and in the cry of my own soul in response to it all.

When I began to read The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence’s simple descriptions of how he formed a habit of conversing with God continually and doing everything out of love for Him stirred me to the high and simple invitation to desire God above everything else. It sounded so simple. He didn’t share a three-step plan or five essential practices or a formula of any kind. He merely described his experience of loving God and falling back on His grace over and over. It sounded so simple. And yet, it also brought the painful realization of how far I am from that reality in my life. More often than not, I try to slap a half-hearted pursuit of God on top of everything in my life and pretend it’s all for Him. In reality, my motivation comes from so many other places but rarely from genuine love for God. I want genuine love for God to be the root of all that I do, but as I recognized the absence of that in my life I also begin to realize how little I truly understood about what it means to love God well. Or what it means to love Derek well, for that matter. This past semester produced a stellar report card and a new job, but what of my relationship with God? What of my marriage? Did I love well?

During the Onething conference, focused this year on “Jesus, Our Magnificent Obsession”, that invitation to return to my first love for God surfaced over and over, not just in the worship and the talks but in my own heart as I responded to what I heard. Over and over I was reminded that nothing was as crucial as loving God fully.

One of the most profound parts of the conference for me was Dwayne Robert’s talk that Friday morning. He spoke about how Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that we go through seasons of our life, yet eternity has been put in the heart of man. We were designed to connect with the Eternal One and nothing will fully satisfy us until we are dwelling with God. He cautioned that our careers and even our ministry cannot be our focus. These are our calling, not our reward, not the place in which we find our satisfaction. We will never be satisfied even by miracles or power going forth from our bodies. Instead, we must be compelled by the love and revelation of Jesus. He said that the cry in the inner room of those who walk in signs and wonders is, “Jesus, my magnificent obsession, I love you!” “I am not going to let this eternal cry be met by anything else but a Man with eyes aflame with love for me,” Dwayne declared. “My life is a failure if I enter eternity with my life dull to Him.”

At the end, he issued a call to be diligent in our calling, but to shift the goals and focus of our lives, to enlarge our hearts, to detach from everything that is contaminating our hearts and to do whatever it takes to break our addiction to the American dream. His words were cutting and powerful, but it was the passion behind them that spoke most deeply to me. As he spoke, I saw a man desperate to love God fully, to turn away from every other passion but Jesus, and to see others engulfed in that same passion for God. I recognized the puniness of my own passion for God lately, how little I truly loved this Man Jesus, how little I even know Him. But it stirred the coals of that fire a little more. I want to know Him. I want to love Him more fully. I want to see my life radiating passion for the Eternal One. I want to see that passion engulf every other passion and desire in my life until it compels everything I do.

So in this new year and new season for me and Derek, I have resolved to pursue God again, to open my life to a deeper knowledge of Jesus and invite Him to feed the flames of love for Him in my heart. Even as I turn my heart back to God again, though, I can feel the tug of my flesh in the other direction. There’s the constant temptation to draw away again, to feed myself with the world, to let my mind and spirit simply coast, to take the easy way. More and more I recognize my incredible need for God’s grace to seek Him and know Him. I am encouraged by a prayer that Brother Lawrence was in the habit of praying whenever he found that he’d failed in his pursuit of loving God fully: “I am used to do so; I shall never do otherwise if I am left to myself” (The Practice of the Presence of God, p. 13). In the past couple weeks I’ve often found myself echoing that prayer in my own words, pouring out confession after confession of my own inability to relate rightly to God, and inviting Him to pour out His grace in the places of my weakness. Because weakness and all, that invitation is still there to love Him more.

Feeding the Hungry

Yesterday work started with a third grader pulling the fire alarm. The whole school evacuated to the back of the playground, amidst much grumbling from the teachers (this particular third grader has created a bit of a reputation for causing trouble). When his mom came to pick him up, she told us that she’s used to it and wasn’t even angry.

On the bus ride home, I talked with one of the other teachers about it and about how so many of the kids there are hungry for attention. Some are ravenous for it, willing to do anything to earn a moment of interaction. As teachers, we try to respond to their hunger – a little extra homework help, a moment together reading a book, a word of praise, an invitation to be our helper for a project – but with a whole class of kids clamoring for attention, we can only do so much for each one or the most part their hunger continues to rumble and erupt into broken toys, scattered crayons, and punched classmates.

When I came home, Angel and Bubba were there to greet me. I could hear the patter of their feet as soon as I walked in the door and by the time I reached the top of the stairs, Angel was peering over the top of the gate, calling out “Hello!” And there was that hunger again, staring at me with eager eyes and a bright smile. Not for dinner (they had just finished that), but for attention. Love.

Often I find that I’m still painfully dismissive of that hunger, reluctant to give up my own freedom and pursuits to pour out the time and attention they need. I’m not their mom, I reason. I have other things to do, work to finish, projects planned, books to read. Yet here I am, grumbling about parents who don’t pay attention to their kids, don’t try to teach them or form their character, and lamenting the shortage of people to give these kids the one on one attention they need, while at the same time retreating into my selfishness and dismissing the opportunity to pour into these kids who share our house. Isn’t that part of why we invited Shelby and her kids into our home, not just to give them a place to live but to bring them into family, to begin to fill the places of neglect and lack? Oh yes, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

So after dinner, I stayed downstairs. I read books to the kids. We colored together. We made a tent out of a blanket and then played peek-a-book. We ate freshly baked cookies (courtesy of Lindsay) in the kitchen and then cleaned up the toys together before bed.

It’s just a start. I can hear them running around downstairs now as I write, reminding me that to love them well requires ongoing, persistent, daily sacrifice. But this afternoon, as I prepare for work and think again of my kids there, I’m also reminded of the price we pay if we deny that sacrifice of love and the incredible worth of giving time to these little ones.

Again

Here I am again, processing through another set of changes and struggling to put words to the immense magnitude of it all in my heart. It feels like trying to scoop up an ocean in a bucket.

Yesterday Derek was let go from his job at the Roasterie.

The news didn’t come as a complete surprise this time. About a month ago his supervisor sat him down and gave him a list of things that he needed to improve on (things the he felt he was doing already) within the next two weeks or his position would be terminated. She assured him the next day that the threat of termination was really more of a “scare tactic” (an effective one, too, from the standpoint of this wife) and said that they would discuss it again at the end of the two weeks. That date came and passed with no meeting, though. When Derek asked her about it, she said it was postponed until one of the other supervisors could be there, too, so we thought that perhaps things were settled. Derek was getting more hours again and things seemed to be going better in general. But then yesterday he went to his other supervisor with a scheduling question (they kept scheduling him during times that he wasn’t available) and was told that, actually, they’d decided to let him go. His supervisor pulled an official letter off a shelf (how long had that been there?), handed it to him, told him that if he had any questions he could call the main office, and sent him home. Just like that.

With that news rolled in a whole host of questions, from the serious and weighty (Will my job cover all our expenses? Will we still be able to go home for thanksgiving? What the heck is life going to look like in the next couple months?) to the ridiculously small and petty (Where will we get coffee now?). I have this urge to scoop them all up, collect all the details, and fit them together like a puzzle so I know exactly what everything is going to look like, exactly what to expect, exactly how it’s all going to work out. But that’s not how life works, is it? It’s certainly not how faith works.

Last night we scrolled through lists of jobs on craigslist. This morning we sat together and made a budget, discussing where we can possibly cut back expenses. Right now Derek is at the local community college, talking to someone about the possibility of going back to school next semester (something he’s been thinking about for a while). And I still have my job, crazy though it may be. Practically, I know we’ll be okay. Hopefully we’ll be more than just okay. Perhaps this is opening a door to whatever God has planned for us.

But to be honest, a part of me is so tired of the constant transition, constant instability. We just went through this three months ago. When Derek got this job the Roasterie, it seemed to offer a glimmer of hope for something more than just getting by in the moment. And yet here we are again. By God’s grace, my heart has stayed fairly steady through each transition. Time and time again, faith, hope, and love (the three that remain) have buoyed me back to the surface. But will we ever get to a season where every day stops feeling like a battle to fight, another obstacle to push through for the hope of what’s to come someday?

I feel like all of this has simplified my dreams lately: A home. A garden. Good, honest work for both of us, where we can serve faithfully. Friends nearby. Family. Time with God. Time with each other, unburdened by the heaviness of depression and discouragement. Simple celebration of each season. Vibrant relationships. Fullness of life. Growth. Simplicity. Rest. Joy. Balance (yes, here my dreams start to trail away from the concrete and into the less-definable longings of my heart).

I remember a while ago Michael Flowers spoke about the Psalms of lament and how most of them include the questions “Why?” and “How long?” I can feel those same questions welling up inside right now. Abba, will you meet us here and turn my cries “why?” and “how long?” to heartfelt cries of praise!

“For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.” (Romans 8:24-25)

The God of Wrath is ALSO the God of Love!

(My husband wrote this today and gave me permission to share it here. I love his thoughts on the amazing love of God!)

Here at the Roasterie this morning, spending some time with the Lord, my mind keeps going back to the message last night at the Boiler Room about Psalm 22. Before I go on, I thought it was a great message about painful prayer. I love hearing Michael talk because he is a very good teacher. This note is not a critique of his message, just a response to the statements about the wrath of God.

The statements he made about the wrath of God bothered me a bit. He made the statement that the church kind of reads into the text that the Father turned His face away from the Son during His time on the cross, and that it wasn’t true. It is true that it isn’t found in scripture, and it probably is inferred from the text, however, I don’t know if anyone can really say whether or not it’s true. Since scripture doesn’t give anything beyond the simple narrative of the death of Jesus, I don’t believe we can for sure say whether Jesus was speaking out of what truly happened or that He was “mistaken” to believe that God had forsaken Him. Could it simply be Him expressing emotion to the Father even though it wasn’t true? Yes, because I believe that it is not sin to express emotion even if it is not based upon truth. Emotion based on a lie is still emotion, and therefore is valid and not sinful to have or express. However, there was something very unique in Jesus’ death on the cross: He was literally bearing the weight of the sins of the entire human race. Could it be that Jesus really did have the Father “turn his face away” that we would never experience that? I don’t know if any can really say. Personally, to be completely honest, I believe the Father didn’t turn His face away, now that I really think about it, because of the Father’s great love.

I think it is a problem when we use this argument and where we stand on it to minimize the wrath of God against sin. The key to being fully OK with the wrath of a God who is love is all wrapped up in the OBJECT of His wrath. It is never people. It is always sin. It is the enemy who tries to blur the lines between sin and sinner. If he can twist our hatred of sin (which is an attribute of our Father) just far enough, he can get us to hate the person living in sin, and that is the problem. The wrath of God, on the contrary, is actually one of the most important aspects of His character to seeing the true greatness of His love. It is precisely God’s absolute hatred of sin that makes Jesus’ death so horrendous and so shockingly beautiful. Without the potency of God’s wrath, His love loses it’s power. They are two sides of the same coin. Without God’s wrath, the humiliating death on the cross makes no sense whatsoever. Jesus’ death on the cross was not some mere symbol or exciting story to tell, it was literally the wrath of God against sin borne upon a single man, all so you and I could be reconciled to God.

We have no way of coming to God on our own; our sin prevents it, primarily because of our agreement with sin, not because it is too ugly or abhorrent for God to reach into (He did this through Jesus of course). But this is the beauty of God’s love, it’s why His grace is amazing: in spite of our agreement with sin, He PURSUES us and He LOVES us; it is this kindness RIGHT IN THE FACE OF WHAT HE HATES MOST that leads us to repentance. His kindness when we are “living rightly” isn’t what leads us to repentance; it’s how while we were yet sinners, agreeing with and living out our lives in the sin that He hates, He treats us with kindness when we know we deserve wrath! This totally disarms us. But if we lose the sense of God’s wrath against sin, His love loses it’s true depth and meaning to us. We have to live in the tension between His love and His wrath, not losing our grip on the reality of either one.

One last word on the wrath of God: in addition to the fact that His wrath makes His extravagant, crazy love so much more beautiful, it will also be released on the earth again somewhere in the future. To negate the wrath of God leads down a very slippery slope to denying the severity of sin and the reality of hell, as well as the coming judgments of God in Revelation. When the Lord was speaking to Abram about his descendants in a dream (Gen. 15), He said that they would be in bondage and then return to possess the land he was currently in, in their fourth generation, “for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” There was an appointed time that the Amorites went on in their sin before the Lord brought His judgment on them.

Similarly, I believe the prophetic words in Revelation show that there is an appointed time when the whole earth, now in a time of “the year of the favor of the Lord” as Jesus declared in Luke 4, will see the “day of the vengeance of our God” that Jesus very intentionally left out of His reading that day. This is the time of the favor of God, when He sits on His mercy seat, showing His extravagant love in spite of the rampant sin on the earth. But one day, He will return to make all things right, and in order to do that, He will exact vengeance on His enemy Satan, the father of lies and peddler of sin. And the truth of it is that those who have chosen to agree with God’s enemy really will be dragged by Satan into the lake of fire. God’s wrath is real, it is just as alive as it was in the OT, but because we are in the year of His favor, we don’t see it yet; we see His patience, His longsuffering with the human race. I really like IHOP’s teachings on this topic, that we must preach both the Jesus in white (the intimate bridegroom God who loves us unconditionally and rescues us from the dragon) and the Jesus in red (the warrior God who crushes the dragon and his empire securing peace and life for His bride).

When we embrace the God of Wrath who is also the God of Love, we will gain a new and awesome picture of His love for us and the extent to which He pursues us, even in our weakness. This is AMAZING GRACE!

Rooted and Grounded in Love

Derek and I just finished listening to a message from Mike Bickle on Ephesians 3:14-19 (we listened to it streamed live but I’ll try to post a link if I can).

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with the fullness of God.” – Ephesians 3:14-19

He talked specifically about being rooted and grounded in God’s love for us. It felt like a continuation of the word God was speaking to me a week ago about the importance of knowing that I am beloved in my ordinary life, and of the message last Sunday evening at the Boiler Room about God’s original plan for us and our well-being (Jean spoke about that passage in Ephesians then, too, as she taught about the foundations for our sense of being and well being — you should be able to hear the whole message here).

I’m struck by the importance of this, the importance of being rooted and grounded in God’s love. Mike talked about how many people never walk in the calling that God has for them because they are so bogged down in the emotional traffic of their relationship with others, and that they’re bogged down by this because they aren’t yet rooted and grounded in love. That rooting and grounding is foundational, not just for our life with God but for the way we relate to everyone around us. It is foundational for parenting, for marriage, for friendships, for ministry. Until we feel secure in God’s love, in the way He sees us, we’ll continue to strive to earn that from Him and others. I’m struck by how all my dreams of who I want to be, what I want to do– my dreams of ministry, motherhood, community — rest on this foundation, a foundation that’s still very much faulty and cracked yet.

I want this. I want to be rooted and grounded in God’s love. In fact, I know that I need this. This season of transition (the transition to being a wife along with the transition now to Kansas City) seems to be bringing this need to the surface like never before. I need this revelation to be real and deep in my life. I need God to unfold the revelation of His love in my life to a new fullness so that it defines the way I live and interact.

I want this foundation in my life. I want to be rooted and grounded in His love.

A Glimpse of Jesus in My Life

Recently I’ve started reading A Glimpse of Jesus; the Stranger to Self-Hatred by Brennan Manning (I’ve always been impressed and convicted by any quote I’ve heard from him, but have yet to read one of his books). In the second chapter he issues the challenge:

“Who is the Jesus of your journey? How would you describe the Christ who is the still point of a turning world for so many people and an irrelevancy or embarrassment for countless others…The challenge, so keenly put in the New Testament – ‘Who do you say that I am?’ – is addressed to each of us. Who is the Jesus of your own interiority? Describe the Christ that you have personally encountered on the grounds of your own self?

Only a stereotypical answer can be forthcoming if we have not developed a personal relationship with Jesus. We can only repeat pious turns of speech that others have spoken or wave a catechism under children’s noses if we have not gained some partial insight, some small glimpse of the inexhaustible richness of the mystery who is Jesus Christ.” (Brennan Manning, A Glimpse of Jesus, p. 24-25)

I read on a little further, but eventually had to stop and close the book so I could ponder this question. Who is Jesus in my life? “Who do you say I am?”

I feel like I’m still just beginning to truly know Jesus and make Him known in my life, that I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of the fullness of life in Him, but I’m encouraged by Manning’s words:

“Perhaps what is decisive is not how much we see, but how much we trust and follow Jesus of Nazareth, however sketchy the portrait, how ever sketchy the glimpse,” (A Glimpse of Jesus, forward).

That said, here are few glimpses of the Jesus I’ve come to know in my life:

He is the one who shifted the priorities in my life by showing me what is most important to Him (time with Him and our relationship with Him). He is beautiful and captivating. He draws my heart like nothing else. Everything else that I pursued and anything else that I could pursue pales in comparison with time spent in His presence. He is fullness of life that satisfies me in a way that chasing after my own desires and glory never did.

He is the one that gives me hope by His promises. He gives me hope for continued transformation in my own life, but also hope for the transformation of people and communities around me, hope for broken people to be healed, shattered foundations rebuilt, new life from death, and redemption from failure. He is the picture of who we will be and the face of God’s love and mercy towards us.

He is my first Love, my faithful friend. He is always with me when I cry to Him. He pushes back the despair and lifts the loneliness. He tells me who I am and reminds me of His plans for me. His love never fails. He is always there and always sufficient.

He is my compass, who reorients my life and points me in the direction I need to go. He is the nourisher of my soul who feeds me with His words, corrects me, gives me wisdom, who draws the depths of my heart (both the dreams and the filth) to the light of the surface.

He is my Redeemer, who makes sure that nothing in my life is wasted. He brings light and growth out of even my deepest pain or sharpest failing.

This is still such a partial picture of all that Jesus is and promises to be in our lives, but I hope and pray that I will continue to come to know Him more. I pray that as I come to know more about Him, that the things I know about Him will become more and more evident in my life and I will truly know Him more. And for now, I strive to be faithful to what I do know.